U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse today joined leading local environmental advocates to mark Earth Day with a call to end the plastic pollution filling the oceans, washing up on the shoreline, clogging nets of Rhode Island fishermen, and starving wildlife. The event took place on the grounds of Clean Ocean Access, a Middletown nonprofit focused on eliminating marine debris and improving the health of the coastline.

“This Earth Day, it is more important than ever that all of us in the Ocean State take steps to protect our coastal economy from plastic debris,” said Whitehouse. “While we have made enormous progress cleaning up Narragansett Bay, the millions of tons of trash that are dumped into the oceans around the world can wind up on American shores and in the nets of Rhode Island fishermen. My bipartisan solution for boosting our national and international response to the marine debris crisis has passed the Senate, and I urge the House to take swift action on the legislation.”

Whitehouse’s bipartisan bill to clean up and prevent marine debris, the Save Our Seas Act, was approved in the Senate by unanimous consent last summer. The Save Our Seas Act, which is coauthored by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to cleaning up marine debris and foster cooperation between the United States and other nations to confront the crisis worldwide.

“What better day than Earth Day to marvel at Narragansett Bay and acknowledge the efforts of so many over so long who have helped clean it?” said Janet Coit, Director of the RI Department of Environmental Management. “Our bays, rivers, and coastal waters support commercial and recreational fisheries, and world-class events like the Volvo Ocean Race, that generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. While challenges remain, strong environmental laws have been critical to protecting our air and water. On behalf of Governor Raimondo, I commend Senator Whitehouse’s leadership and endorse his call to protect our state from plastic pollution and other marine debris.”

Every year, roughly 8 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste enters the oceans from land. Save the Bay’s Narragansett Bay beach cleanups in 2017 collected more than 150,000 pieces of trash from Rhode Island’s shoreline. Plastic pieces were the second most common type of litter that was picked up.  A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum found that there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the oceans by 2050 unless nations across the world take action. 

“There is a moral imperative to stop the desecration of our oceans and environment, to make sure the most vulnerable and future generations do not have the burden or debt of the current status,” said Dave McLaughlin, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Access. “The state of Rhode Island is in a perfect position to lead the way to address this complicated and time-sensitive issue.”

Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, declared “End Plastic Pollution” the theme of this year’s celebration. Earth Day was Sunday, April 22.

“Plastic pollution isn’t just happening in garbage patches in the middle of the ocean or in countries on the other side of the world – it’s happening right here in our own backyard,” said Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director for Clean Water Action. “Narragansett Bay is Rhode Island’s most important environmental and economic resource, and plastic pollution is an unequivocal threat to these waters and shorelines. But we cannot recycle our way out of this problem – we will only be able to solve it through policies that stop plastic pollution at its source.”

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